28 February 2008

Szia Budapest, and Dia Dhuit Ireland!

Our last day in Budapest, we headed to the Ethnography Museum, which according to my guidebook is the largest of its type in the world. There's a permanent exhibition on Hungarian cultural history, which was interesting. We learned about how felt hats were made, women's clothing, furniture, farming, and all sorts of aspects of Hungarian life. Here is some Hungarian decorated furniture and dishes. Everything is very colorful.

This picture made us laugh for a really long time. The little girl is in a baby stand, though she looks perfectly happy to be there!

There was also a temporary exhibition on the musical instruments of the world! There were some recordings playing, but mostly we could only look at instruments. However, to appeal to children or childlike adults like me and Kristen, there were some interactive bits. We tried plucking various strings, different kinds of drums, and percussive instruments. The instruments were attached to bins with strings so that they wouldn't migrate, and one of the sets had become very tangled, so we sat for about fifteen minutes to untangle the huge knot. Singing in harmony all the while, of course, since the acoustics were so excellent.

Another exhibition showed the history of jeans, which have only been made in Hungary since the 70s. They're called "farmers" in Hungarian, which I find very strange.

After we left the museum, we went to search for good coffee for Kristen, and ended up getting milkshakes as well. Then a quick stop on the way back to the hostel resulted in me buying a new swimsuit, which fits better than most swimsuits do. Plus, the forint-dollar exchange rate is good!

The taxi ride to the airport was significantly faster than it should have been, and though we both feared for our lives at some point of the journey, we made it to our flight with plenty of time to spare. We flew Aer Lingus, which was nice, but I was surprised that they charge for everything on the flight, even water. Good thing we had brought snacks!
Once in Dublin, we found someone to ask about buses, and took a bus into the city centre. There's a bus stop only a couple of blocks away from our hostel, and the bus stop where we got off (three later) wasn't too far either :)
Our hostel in Budapest was really homey feeling, with spacious rooms and a really welcoming feeling. It was also designed more like an actual home. Our Dublin hostel is really nice too, and is clean and well-run, but it feels very institutional. Automatic dryers in the bathrooms, water that you push a button to turn on that switches off all by itself (annoying in the shower). So it's a good hostel, but we have no inclination to hang out here, like we did in Budapest. Different styles of hostel!

First full day in Dublin! Our hostel comes with a full Irish breakfast, which is tasty and incredibly filling. 100% protein. There's a banger (sausage), puddings (like little sausages that are somewhat bread-based?), rashers (Canadian bacon), and an egg (sunny-side-up). Plus juice and tea and milk. And cereal and toast if you want it. It's absolutely delicious. The French would hate it.

We walked from our hostel to Trinity College, which was founded by Elizabeth I and is the oldest college in Ireland. Here's Kristen on the campus:

The college is also home to the Book of Kells, which is a 9th century illuminated manuscript, containing the four gospels. Scholars can tell that it was meant to be decorative rather than used, though, since there are some errors in the text that were marked, but not fixed. The pictures are beautiful though! The exhibit showed how the manuscripts were made, from what went into the ink to how the books were bound. It was really neat, and after we saw the Book of Kells itself in the treasury, we got to go up to the Long Room of the library, which is the most heavenly library I've been in. Thousands of books in a big barrel-vaulted room, none more recent than 1890. You could smell the knowledge. There were some books on display as well, with beautiful illustrations of the world's wildlife. Kristen could tell you the author, but I've forgotten :)

The area around Trinity is called Temple Bar, and is a young area with lots of fun shops and pubs. One of the first things we stumbled upon was an environmental education resource center, with tons of free literature and posters for people to take. Kristen is currently working in County Mayo doing this type of project, and she's spent weeks looking for this type of resource. Ireland's organization isn't the best in the world, so she didn't know anything like this existed. We collected copies of all of their pamphlets and posters, so now Mayo will have a big collection of information, plus order forms if they want more. What a find!

We wandered around the shops a bit, then ate lunch at a pub with a wonderful name:

Kristen got fish and chips, and I got a lamb stew that was wonderful and filling... it seems like my life in France is protein-deprived, and I'm making up for it on this trip.

Our next stops weren't very far away: St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral. The latter is the oldest church in Dublin, and the two are famous because their combined choirs sang the first performance of the Messiah. I was surprised that both are now Anglican! During the time when (as I like to put it) England borrowed Ireland, the churches were converted. So there are lots of nice niches in the walls empty of statues, there are tombs of war heroes, and other distinctive markers of important Anglican churches. Here's some stained glass from St. Patrick's:

And this is a tile from the floor, which has an Irish take on the fleur de lys:

This is Christ Church.

We were too late to explore, but we went for a smoothie and came back for evensong. The lay vicars and the girls' choir sang a lovely collection of music, and it was a beautiful service. The choirs were superb, and I felt bad for them that the audience was about twenty people. It was pretty magical.

On our way back to the hostel to make some pasta for dinner, we passed a pub that was advertising their Wednesday night live comedy! Such a lucky accident. We returned after dinner, and for only seven euros saw four comedians (well, seven euros plus what we spent on drinks-- Fat Frogs, which are Smirnoff Ice, orange breezer, and blue WKD. The result is a lemon-blue raspberry-orange drink that has very little alcohol and tastes like it has none). Three of the comedians were really good, and one has potential. Ireland isn't the right audience for him, since most of his material was about him being gay. The audience just couldn't get into it. But overall it was a great night, and we had a really fun time.

Today we're heading to the Guinness storehouse, then we've got a bit more time in Dublin before we hop on a train for County Mayo, on the western coast of the country. We'll be there for a few days, so I'll get to meet Kristen's host family and enjoy some rural Irish adventures. But we won't have internet, so I'll update my blog once I'm back in France on Sunday!

25 February 2008

More Photos of Adventures in Budapest

Today was just waiting to happen. Kristen and I always have adventures when we travel, and frankly our first two days were too normal. Today was not. We got a lot of chances to laugh at ourselves, at least!

After a lunchtime breakfast from the bakery, we walked over to Margit Sziget, the largest island in the Danube. It has several miles of paths for walking running, and biking. We went to rent bikes, and were entranced by the Bringo, a two-bike contraption that looks like a golf cart. We figured it would be more conducive to conversation than two bikes, and would be lots of fun. Here are two pictures of us in the Bringo, taken with my camera's self-timer.

Some of the architectural attractions of the island are ruins of churches and cloisters from the middle ages. So we parked the bike and walked around. Here's a picture of us under the remains of an arch.

The trees were also fun to look at, and some of them had grown in really interesting ways. I like this picture:

On the north side of the island, the adventures began. The right pedal of the right bike of the Bringo popped off! The screw threads were completely shredded, it was barely possible to tell that it used to be a screw. We tried everything to put it back on, but it didn't work. The stickiest thing I had was a band-aid, but it didn't hold for long. We tried to tie it on, but it didn't work either. Some of our attempts were witnessed by a very amused toothless Hungarian man, who unsuccessfully tried to help. There was nothing to be done. Sticks sometimes worked for a few pedals, and the pen broke after only two rotations.

Here is a picture of the cloisters. Portions have been restored.

There's also a small zoo on the island, including these fluffy birds, that look like walking wingless stuffed animals.

After returning the bike and its pedal (luckily he didn't charge us the full fee) we walked back to the bridge and to the Buda side of the river, where we went to a supermarket to get something to drink before walking to the castle. This side of the river had a lovely view of Parliament.

We took a funicular up to the castle, which is at the top of a hill. The sun was setting on the other side of the hill:

The view from the top was amazing. Hills on one side, Pest and the Danube on the other.

Here's the Chain Bridge and the Basilica, seen from the castle.

And here are Kristen and I, on top of the hill. There were very few people up at the castle, so it wasn't a problem that Kristen and I sang as we explored.

We walked down the hill and along the river to the hostel, then went to an Italian restaurant that had caught our eye days ago. It's called "Okay Italia" which we thought was a hilarious name for a restaurant. The prices were reasonable, although we tried lots of things so it added up. Kristen got an assortment of bruschetta and a tortellini dish, and I got ravioli in broth and spinach lasagne. We shared profiteroles for dessert. It was all delicious, much better than "okay."

Tomorrow is our last day in Budapest, and we're going to the Ethnography museum, which should be particularly interesting because of the permanent exhibition on Hungarian culture. Then in the early evening we head back to the airport, to fly to Dublin!
Until then, keep the pedals on your bikes and enjoy warm weather when you can!

Day Two in Budapest

Sunday's weather was even more beautiful than Saturday's. Less wind, more sun, and it feels like April. We walked along the Danube to see the House of Parliament, a neo-Gothic giant that was built about a hundred years ago.

Near the building (which is heavily guarded and closed to tourists) was this statue of one of Hungary's many prolific writers. He looks very morose, but I thought it was charming that somebody had slipped a flower into his hand!

We went to Mass at the basilica, which isn't really technically a basilica. According to my guidebook, it's one of the the seats of the archbishop, so it's a cathedral. Plus, the French book says, "it looks nothing like a basilica looks." Coming from the country of white domed churches on hills as the only form of "basilica," I agree! The exterior of the church is domed and lovely, but shaped more like St. Paul's cathedral in London.

The interior is spectacularly decorated with colored marble and gilt artwork. Europe's churches used to be painted and decorated inside, but the paint of course didn't last many centuries. More recent cathedrals and basilicas have colored stone and mosaics, which will last much longer.

While we were waiting for Mass to start, Kristen noticed that the angel over the altar cast a unique shadow:

After Mass, we walked across the bridge to go see the citadel, which where Budapest's Statue of Liberty stands. On top of an approximately 800-foot tall hill, which we climbed up. Here's a view of the statue from the bridge.

And here's Budapest, seen from the other side of the bridge. The red dome you see on the right side of the river is the Parliament building.

Here's a statue next to the Statue of Liberty. I like taking pictures of statues blocking the sun.

And here's the Statue of Liberty. It used to have a Communist star under the description, since it was built right after Hungary was taken by the Soviets in World War Two... my guidebook wonders "Liberated from free economics? From democracy?"

This is one of the lions guarding the Chain Bridge, Budapest's oldest bridge. It was built only about a hundred fifty years ago, to link the two cities of Buda and Pest. (We're staying in Pest, and have spent most of our time there. The hill we climbed, and the castle, are in Buda. The Danube is called the Duna in Hungarian.)

We walked back across the Chain Bridge, and searched for an open restaurant to get a very late lunch. The first thing we found was a Chinese fast food restaurant, which was about the same quality and choice as American Chinese fast food. Not too authentic, but it still tasted good. Then we walked back toward the hostel so that Judit could pick up the stuff she'd left in my locker, before getting a train back to her university. On the way to the hostel we saw this statue (Parliament in the background). The whole thing, bridge included, is the statue, not just the man on top:

We walked on to the bridge to take one final picture of the three of us.

After Judit left, Kristen and I went to a supermarket to get an eclectic dinner: mysterious refrigerated cakes (which turned out to be potato-based like the ones I loved in Russia), dehydrated mushroom chips (Chirpy brand), and flavored milk. Kristen and I frequently have this conversation:
"What's that?"
"I have no idea."
"It looks interesting."
"Let's buy it."

I love traveling with her :)

24 February 2008

A Day at the Airport and a Day in Budapest!

12:39 p.m. (I wrote this in the airport)
I wouldn't say that sitting around in airports is one of my favorite activities. It would probably be pretty low on my list. But arriving at the airport six hours before my flight saved me a lot of money, and only cost me a few hours of sleep. Which I sort of got back on the train.
I got up at 4:15 (more accurately, I woke up at 4:15 and got out of bed once I remembered why I had to, around 4:20) and showered, ate the rest of my perishable food, finished packing, and cleaned up the apartment. That's so that when I get back, I'll have a nice clean space to mess up while I unpack. Logical, no?
Anyway, I did have some things to do at the airport. But somehow it's a much more efficient place to do errands than Angers is! I went to the Air France ticket counter to buy tickets to Lisbon and back from Madrid (four-day self-designated spring break with Meghan and Jakob in a few weeks), which admittedly took quite a while. I was using the complicated reimbursement voucher they'd sent me (from when I went to Milan, and the flight was cancelled, replacement flight was late, I missed all the trains to Angers, and had to pay for a hotel... thanks for the memories, Air France!) and the woman wasn't quite sure how to deal with the voucher. She eventually got it all straightened out though. Then I went back to the train station, and bought train tickets to get to the airport and back home from the said Portgual/Spain trip. Then I went to the bathroom and the bookstore. Then I found a post office and mailed all of the plane and train tickets to myself so that I won't have to worry about them this week.
All of that happened in about an hour and a half. I was expecting it to take a lot longer.
Five hours to kill... if you think traveling is exciting or that "getting there is half the fun," allow me to prove you wrong. I bought a cheap pastry to earn me a comfy window-seat in a café, and sat and read for an hour. Ate the apples I'd brought with me. Updated my calendar to reflect the latest classes I'd added and dropped. Read some more. Walked around a bit. Read some more. Went and bought lunch. Read and ate lunch. Took some ibuprofen, since lunch came with dark chocolate cake which will give me a headache. Read some more. Decided to see if there was free wi-fi, and there's isn't. Decided to write blog material offline, which is what I'm doing now. In an hour, I will go and check in as slowly as possible, and go through security as slowly as possible, and then find new ways to kill time on the mysterious side of the airport where there are only passengers and no liquids.

Friday night: Kristen and I both arrived slightly late but safe and happy. First bone-cracking hugs in months, and then we took a taxi (easier option than a bus, metro, and tram) to the hostel. The taxi was less than 20 Euros for 45-minutes... incredibly cheap when we compare it to Ireland and France. Our hostel is charming: it's been open about two months, and is a brightly colored, cheerfully decorated place called HomePlus Hostel. Highly recommended if you ever go to Budapest, it really does feel homey! The owner recommended some places to see at night, so we walked for about two hours on a circuit that took us to the middle of a bridge over the Danube, a grocery store, Gustave Eiffel's train station, and near the opera house. We got a bit sidetracked there by some other theaters though, so we didn't actually see the opera house itself. Dinner, back at the hostel, was mysterious chips, bread that had spices (possibly anise and nutmeg?) in it, chocolate covered apple chips, cheese, and Mars bar flavored milk.
Here's the view over the Danube at night:

Saturday was a BUSY day. Wow. Kristen and I got up annoyingly early, and stopped at a bakery to buy breakfast before meeting Judit (my Hungarian friend who was in Angers last semester). She's not from Budapest, so we're being tourists together, but since she speaks Hungarian, understands how much Forints are worth (I miss the Euro, although everything is cheaper with the Forint!) and is a great navigator. The weather was absolutely beautiful, so we barely went indoors all day. We went shopping in downtown Budapest (DVDs and a Hungarian folk music CD, plus a present to mail home, and a misspelled postcard as a souvenir for me) and stopped in this cheerful yellow church:

I really like Budapest's architecture. There's a distinctive flavor to every European city, but I can't really put my finger on this one's yet. There is quite a mixture of eras, though: for example, the Parliment house is Gothic, but has a big dome on top à la Saint Paul's. Here's an intersection that's a good example of Budapest:

This is the window of Budapest's most famous porcelain shop:

We ate lunch at a traditional restaurant. I got mushroom soup and this pork dish, which is pork stuffed with sausage and cheese, which is then breaded and fried. It was really good, and very filling. Inexpensive, as well!

This is the Square of Heroes, where there are statues of Budapest's most important kings (starting with King Stephen in the year 1000) and some heroes on horses at the base of the pedestal. I taught Judit the word "plinth." I'm sure the word will come in handy at some point. (By the way, we've been speaking English. Judit is an English/physics major)

Near the square, which is in between the Hungarian National Art Museum and the Hungarian National History Museum, there's a castle-turned agricultural museum.

We went into the chapel and admired the architecture, and took pictures with the statue of Anonymus, one of Hungary's most prolific medieval writers. He was a priest who didn't want any credit for his work, and signed it all Anonymus. He was one of the first to do so. Here's a picture of Kristen getting his autograph:

At a snack bar, I got corn on the cob, the first corn I've eaten since August. It was delicious. Kristen got cotton candy, and we discussed various names for it in different kinds of English and other languages (candy floss in Ireland, cotton sugar in Hungarian, and dad's beard in French).

As we ate, we walked over to the thermal baths, which are beautiful. Hungary has been known for its thermal baths since it was part of the Roman Empire. Here's the inside of the dome:

Still in the general area of the museums, we sat down in a park to chat and watched the ducks, the dogs chasing the ducks, the children chasing the dogs, and the parents chasing the children. The ducks were charming:

After that we took the metro back downtown, and walked around a little bit before Judit set off for her friend's house. Kristen and I came back to the hostel to make pasta for dinner and watch a movie. Life in Budapest is good.
[If you want more text about what we did, check out Kristen's blog.]

21 February 2008


I try to never swear, unless the situation is really really horrible, like the day I arrived in France but my clothes didn't. My language, besides the occasional grammatical creativity resulting from all the foreign language contact, is impeccable. My favorite curse-word replacements are "nuts!" and the stronger "expletive!" Lots of opportunity to use the latter, today.

Yesterday I pulled out my passport, because I need to remember to bring it when I leave home tomorrow. Leafed through it a bit, and noticed... uh-oh... my temporary receipt thing for my residency card (récépissé de carte de séjour) expires on February 22nd. That's the day I leave for Budapest. That's a problem. The carte is what you get when the visa expires, and you need one to be legal. It won't be a problem for flying out tomorrow, but it could be a problem when I fly back in on March 2nd. "No biggie," I thought, "I'll just go to the foreigners office of the préfecture tomorrow and ask them to give me a new one or extend it or something." So that was the plan.

Fast forward to today. I headed directly over to the préfecture from class, which ended at 12:15. Got there at 12:27. And there was a sign on the door saying "Office closes at 12:15 on Thursday." This must be a new policy, since it wasn't indicated on their website. "Expletive," I said. Then I walked over to the regular préfecture, which is kind of like the secretary of state's office in a US context. The regular one does everything but deal with foreigners. I hoped that there would at least be someone there who could tell me if I'm going to have problems. However, I had a conversation something like this with the lady at the welcome desk:
Kel: "Excuse me, I have a question. I just went to the préfecture annex, but they're closed. You see, my récépissé de carte de séj..."
Lady: "Oh, we don't deal with foreigners."
Kel: "I know, I just wanted to see if you knew if..."
Lady: "No, I don't, we don't know about foreigner issues here."
Kel: "I know that this isn't where I am supposed to b..."
Lady: "No, you're supposed to be at the foreigners office."
Kel: "I know, I was just there and it's closed. But you see, I can't go tomorrow because I'm..."
Lady: "Here, I can give you a map. We can't answer your questions."
Kel: "I know, but I can't go since I'm leaving the country tomorrow." She ignored this, since she was busy shoving a map at me.
Lady: "Oh, you don't need this, you know where it is." Then she took the map back.
Kel: "Well, do you know if there's anyone I can call? The foreigners office from another department, just so that I can ask..."
Lady: "No, they won't be able to answer you either."
Kel: "Um... ok, well, thank you for your time."
[Kel leaves the préfecture]
Kel: "Expletive!"
[I hesitated calling her character lady... a real lady would be a lot more polite. However, she was wearing a large amount of eye liner, which I for some reason associate with loftiness.]

So, nothing to do about the carte de séjour. I walked to the train station, to see if there's a later (but still early enough) train to the airport tomorrow. There is, but it's only about fifteen minutes after the foreigners office supposedly opens, and I'd have to pay about thirty dollars extra. Scratch that idea. I'll just have lots of good explanations and arguments in case the passport control guy turns to the visa page of my passport when I come back. I shouldn't have any problem, since it's their fault and I did all I could, and since I'll be leaving the EU again in less than three months, so they can just pretend I'm a tourist. It'll be fine.

Back to today's adventures... next stop was the copy place, but it was closed for lunch because of the school vacations (I can't quite figure that one out) so I went to get a sandwich for lunch and stopped at H&M, where I got a new pair of pajamas. Back to the copy place, to print flight confirmations and my Truman housing contract. I had to fax that one to Missouri, and it cost a lot. Not quite an arm and a leg, like the English-speaking world would say, or the eyes of the head, like the French would say, or the skin of the buttocks, like the French would also say, but probably a fingernail or two. It cost more than seven pieces of paper and a fax should cost, anyway.

Anyway, tomorrow morning I leave Angers very early, go sit around in the airport for about six hours, fly to Budapest, and then the adventure will begin. The hostel will have wi-fi, so I'll be posting pictures and adventures as often as possible!

20 February 2008

Only Four Days?

It seems like it's been a lot longer since my last post, but I suppose the past few days have just been that busy!

Saturday: I did laundry and then hung around home during the day, reflecting on silly judgments I make* then went to see the new National Treasure movie with Louise, an English exchange student. The movie was hilarious, and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the first one sometime. I had a great time talking with Louise, who is a really interesting person-- she's lived all over the world, and pretty much grew up in France. On our walk back to the bus stops, we saw that the nifty-looking Asian grocery store was open (it was after ten, and most grocery stores in France close at eight at the latest, so I was shocked) so we explored for a while. Treasure trove, I'm telling you! Black mushrooms, bamboo, wonton wrappers, cheap ramen, shrimp chips, tapioca pearls... excellent stuff. Plus it was all really cheap, which is always welcome.
*My stupid judgments include: "I may be cold now, but I really don't need another blanket." Wrong, I should have just gotten the other blanket and been happier. Another common one is "Sure, I have time to sleep in, and I'm certainly not ready to get up. But I should get up anyway." Wrong, just sleep until you're awake, and then you'll be more productive during the day. Sometimes I surprise myself with my terrible logic.

Sunday: My landlord invited me to breakfast so that I could meet Riza, a new Japanese student who just moved in downstairs. She served crêpes with homemade jam, and it was quite good. The French, unlike most Americans, eat very sugary breakfasts with almost no protein. Then I went to Mass with her, since it was too late to take the bus to the cathedral. Her church, la Madeleine, is a lot younger, newer, and more modern than the huge Gothic cathedral I'm used to. It was even somewhat heated, which is probably why so many people were willing to bring their kids. The cantor was worse than mediocre, but he was energetic and his heart was in it, so I liked him better than a lot of the cathedral cantors. It was a nice mass, although I prefer going to "my church." Sunday afternoon I tackled a pile of homework, and in the course of that decided to drop one of my translation courses.

Monday: I went to the university around the usual time, but to check schedules and pick some more classes, not to go to translation. I can't sit through another one of those torturous translation classes; I'm only going to take the third year one. The classes I did have (English-French translation and Dutch) were good. So now I'm taking one translation course in each direction, plus Dutch and French for foreigners; I'm still in the didactics and civilisation course, and I've added English literature. I also added Enunciation and Pragmatics, but today (Wednesday) I de-added it. More about that in two paragraphs.

Tuesday: Didactics today was with the third of our three professors, who is teaching the linguistic aspect of the course. He's a descriptive linguist! Woohoo! France is very normative/prescriptive in linguistics, so it was nice to meet a "real" linguist. (My judgment, the normative ones can sort of be like real linguists too...) After class I walked to the downtown public library (there are libraries all over town, this is one of the bigger ones) and checked out guidebooks for Budapest and Dublin (I leave on Friday), two novels, and five CDs. I finally found a French science fiction author! Once I've read the book, I'll let you know what I think.
In choir we "finished" working on the Machaut Kyrie, which is probably the hardest piece I've ever sung, rhythmically. We started a Gluck motet, which I like, and a Liszt "Ave Verum Corpus" which puts me to sleep. Interesting remark from the director though: "Breathe better, and we won't have to go so fast. I'm directing you at a tempo that fits with the breathing from the phrases, so we can go slower if you can manage it. Tempo all depends on lung capacity... if this were being sung in England it would be a lot slower, and the French tend to take everything faster." Interesting, n'est-ce pas? Not sure if he meant to suggest that "the English have bigger lungs than we do" or not, but it's an interesting judgment nonetheless. It is true that the French take everything fast. An example to explain this to my choir buddies... the cathedral choir sang de Victoria's "O Magnum Mysterium," and it was directed in two rather than in four. Nearly double the speed I'd sung it in the States.
Tuesday night I washed the dishes for the first time in two days. There were a lot to wash, as you can imagine. I also started to pack for my winter break trip. I enjoy packing. Plus, I needed to count out clothes so that I won't have to do laundry until I get back.

Wednesday (Today): Today, after hitting snooze for half an hour and therefore having to get ready very hurriedly, I set off to go to the literature class. Apparently, though the sign by the exchange student schedules clearly says Les cours de L3 commencent à partir du 18 février (Third year classes start the week of February 18th), it really means "Third year courses started a few weeks ago, but the professor won't care if you start now because a lot of the French students just got back from their first semester exchanges, and therefore you won't be the only ones who missed the first few lectures." There are several courses that actually did start this week, but literature didn't happen to be one of them. The class is taught by an English professor (English as in nationality) who is absolutely wonderful. He never lost my attention for even a moment, during a two-hour lecture course. I hadn't even read either of the short stories. Plus, he speaks in normal academic English, he doesn't dumb it down or speak very slowly. So I hopefully won't have any trouble transferring the credit! (The only problem with the course is that, according to Anna, another exchange student in the course, the Monday half (which I also didn't know about) isn't as interesting.) At any rate, I'm really looking forward to this class, and since he teaches the translation class I'm starting tomorrow, I'm really looking forward to that too.
Enunciation and pragmatics however, is nothing like what I had hoped and expected. In linguistics, pragmatics is the study of meaning and language usage, at a level that can be as small as usage of individual words (semantics is a bit larger, and has logical and cognitive aspects). However, this class was far from being a French pragmatics class. First problem is that they analyse English words in small extracts of texts, and second problem is that they do it in the most boring of ways. As in going into ridiculous detail about the use of "each" in the noun phrase "each object." Yuck. Absolutely not what I was looking for, so I'm not going back. And by dropping it, I have time for lunch on Wednesdays again.
This afternoon I have French for foreigners (its real name is "French as a Foreign Language," but I refer to it differently: since I have two courses called FLE I mistranslate one) which should be about the same as usual. I'm not sure if I'd take it if it weren't required. But it's good for filling up my schedule.

Other: picked a roommate for next year at Truman, found and cooked tortellini, made one failed batch of tapioca pudding and one successful batch, figured out a lot of travel details (including buying plane tickets for Spring break... to Egypt!), wrote a short story (still a work in progress), cleaned my apartment, finished reading a James Bond novel in French, and continued keeping the doctor away by eating lots of apples.

16 February 2008

News and Observations, plus an Epigram

• I enjoyed this website, it has a collection of amusing quizzes about modern art and the like. See how well you do!

• There is no easy way to say "quiet" in French, since in English we apply it to so many situations, none of which has an exact correspondence. You have to be able to decide between calm, tranquil, shy, silent, still, empty, secret... the list goes on.

• For the past week or so, there's been work going on on the roof of a house next to my bus stop. Consequently, there's a row of about four ladders set up permanently on the sidewalk. I figured this would be a good way to find out if the French have a ladder superstition... so I diligently walked under the ladders every day to see if I would get a reaction. Finally, on Thursday, someone with their car window down called to me in a shocked voice, "What are you doing?!?" I shrugged and smiled, then chuckled when I got out of sight. Apparently the French do have a superstition about ladders. I suppose I've accumulated about 112 years of bad luck by now. But I assure you, this has absolutely nothing to do with the superglue and post-it notes incidents!

• My teaching French as a foreign language class (FLE, for Français langue étrangère) has three different teachers for the three different areas it covers: history and techniques of teaching languages, teaching civilisation and culture with language, and the linguistics of teaching foreign language. (Does that sound perfect for me, or what!) The two teachers we've had so far are excellent, but they do something that is decidedly un-French: they encourage students to participate, and ask questions that actually aren't rhetorical. Amazing, I know. I of course would be willing to answer about 80% of the questions, but I space out my participation so that I can give other people a chance to talk. However, they don't. It takes a couple pleas from the professor to get one student (out of about fifty) to raise his or her hand. I asked the girl next to whom I've been sitting why she never raised her hand, since I know she knows the answers. She said that she just doesn't. She's absolutely terrified of being judged, and says that the French feel like they're being judged all the time. They're all really insecure, and try to avoid putting themselves in positions where they'll be looked at. And I can understand where this comes from: if you're out in public, people will look at you more intensely, and more critically, than in America. There is a constant feeling of unease, and if I had grown up with that I probably would have been a lot less confident than I am. I asked her if she didn't think people ever judged nicely, like "She's pretty" or "What an awesome coat" or things like that, and she said she was sure that they did. But you can't tell, so better not to risk it. What a sad way to live! And it's to the point where it's interfering with their education as well. Good thing the French don't have a class participation component of their grades!

• My FLE teacher also told us about our midterm, which will be a paper based on a book we choose to read from a list they'll supply. She assured us (in French, obviously), "They're small books though, we're not assigning you paving stones." I loved that expression. Des gros pavés for large books.

• Finally, in my actual FLE class, which is French for people who aren't French, rather than how to teach French to people who aren't French, we've been working on writing in different styles. Wednesday we wrote short epigrams, which was fun. Here is a little epigram paragraph in English. See if you can figure out what's distinctive about it!

Long ago, in a land far far away, there lived a teeny weeny arachnid. (Even though he really appeared to be very tiny... yuck. Quite terrifying!) Monday afternoon, having nothing planned, the arachnid decided to climb up the water drainage pipe. A daunting challenge, taunting the arachnid from the northern edge of the garden. The journey went well for a time, and the arachnid neared the top. Unfortunately however, it began to rain and the little arachnid tumbled out of the aforementioned pipe in the forceful flow of water. Luckily, the daylight reappeared before long, and the abundant water evaporated. Then the wee arachnid could once again advance up the conduit.

14 February 2008

Good Idea, Bad Idea

Remember Animaniacs? Sometimes my life seems like a "Good Idea, Bad Idea" segment.

Good Idea: Putting a post-it note with your recipe written on it on the wall where you can see it while you're cooking.
Bad Idea: Putting a post-it note on the wall above the stove where it can fall onto the lit burner while you're cooking.

Good Idea: Fixing your shoes with superglue, and being very careful not to get any on your hands.
Bad Idea: Picking up the plastic bag you used to protect the table, and thus getting superglue all over your hands.

Every day brings little adventures!

12 February 2008

Very Random Blog

• Today the bus driver obviously forgot which route he was driving, because he turned left where route 5 does instead of going straight like route 2 is supposed to. The ten or so French people and I looked at each other and chuckled a bit and surmised that he had made a mistake, but unlike Americans, nobody called out something like, "Sir? You weren't supposed to turn there..." I expect they would have if he hadn't turned around. Anyway, I can tell you that bendy buses can do very tight U-turns. I was quite impressed, and highly amused.

• In Dutch, the verb for "to sleep in" is uitslapen, which literally means "to sleep out." Isn't that odd? English used to be a lot like what Dutch is now, and it's often possible to imagine Dutch words being just like the roots of English words. This one's a mystery though! Incidentally, the French don't have a verb for sleeping in. It's part of their expression faire une grasse matinée, which encompasses sleeping and being lazy and getting a late start.

• One of the words in Dutch that reminds me of English is genoeg. The g is pronounced like the ch in loch or the х in Russian. Take away the first one, and it's easy to see that it's cousin is the English word "enough."

• Today in didactics we were talking about how, even if you speak a language perfectly, you could still have difficulties communicating because there are cultural aspects of speech. One student gave the example of how the French regularly interrupt each other and finish each other's sentences, which is perfectly polite here. Americans tend not to, unless they're talking with people who are very familiar and they've got a mini-culture going on where this is acceptable. She also said, (in French, this is my translation) "And the Germans don't interrupt each other either, although frankly that makes sense, because they have to wait to the end to get to their verb." Teehee.

• I have fallen in love with this website, which offers formal, official looking forms to fill that written communication void that modern technology has plunged our world into. Think back to the days in elementary school when you would be happy to receive a certificate saying that [your name here] is a * * Special Student! * * This accomplishes the same type of goal. Plus, the forms are subtly hilarious in the most sarcastic of ways. Here is my official Valentine's Day holiday notice to you. Click to make it bigger.

10 February 2008

Rather Unique Mass

This morning I had to wake up at six, which is never fun. However, I was quite motivated to get up because... I got to go to jail! Don't worry, I was just singing mass there with the cathedral choir. But I'd never been to a prison, and more specifically I'd never been to a French prison, so I was excited. Since I expect that at least some of my readers are like me and think visiting a prison is a cool way to spend a Sunday morning, my description'll be detailed!

It took us a long time to get through security (which involved handing over our IDs, which we'd given them photocopies of last month, then locking all of our possessions except our choir robes and sheet music in lockers, then going through a metal detector. Remember how the world's opinion of Americans isn't great at the moment? That made it pretty funny when the guard told everyone "For once, try to follow America's example, please!" after I was the first to go through the metal detector without making it beep. Let's face it, I'm a security pro by now :)

Anyway, they took us through a series of locked doors into the prison. The prison has a few wings, and a round room in the center that used to be a chapel. There are apt quotes on the walls about forgiveness and God caring for captives. But I had never seen a chapel anything like this. Imagine a giant round platform about twenty feet in diameter, with wrought iron supports and decoration. That platform has the altar on it! So Mass was said about fifteen feet above the ground, in the middle of the domed room in all senses of the word middle. It's been classified a historic element (not really a monument, so I'm calling it an element), so they can't do anything to it. They can, however, have their modern glass-encased security center underneath!

We went up to the prison's chapel to leave our coats. The windows had window-paint on them to create "stained glass" and there were some nice posters on the walls. Mass was held, however, in a larger room downstairs, which would be able to hold the usual Catholic crowd plus the choir. The atmosphere was somewhere in between creepy (since it's a prison), sad (since most of the men are held while they're waiting for trial, they haven't been convicted of anything yet), and very reverent. It's a wonderful feeling to go to a Mass, or any religious service, when all the participants really want to be there and are really praying. I will, however, admit that it made me (the unique alto) and the sopranos a bit nervous that we were locked into a room with fifty prisoners and no visible security cameras!

Mass went well, and we sang nicely. (Back to the interesting stuff!)

After Mass there was a pot with coffee and hot chocolate for everyone, and we had a little bit of time to chat. I turned into ultra-shy Kel, since I didn't want to talk enough for people to realize I was a foreigner. That could be awkward. Everybody was really nice and welcoming.

All in all, I agree with Pauline, one of our sopranos: before you go in it's very impressive to see the high walls and big gates and bars and guards. But once you're in, the mystery's gone and it's kind of a let down. It's just a jail, and once the suspense is gone, it's not too impressive. Still neat though!

In other news, yesterday I went shopping and bought a couple DVDs that I didn't need, a notebook that I didn't need, and a folder that I did need. France has excellent taste in office supplies. I'm still creeped out by the way students take notes (at least three colors of pens, underlining things-- with a ruler-- and with a full pencil case always on the desk in front of them. I always get a weird look or two when I pull out my notebook and one pen and its eraser (erasable ink), and sometimes a pencil just in case. I'm so... eccentric.

08 February 2008


Here are the recipes I've been playing with over the course of the last two weeks, from breakfast to dinner to dessert. All are possible with no oven, and with a minimum of supplies. Because that's what I've got :)

Eggs With Stuff Mixed In
Lightly cook a small amount of ground beef and a vegetable. Then crack two eggs on top, stir a little bit, and flip the whole thing when you get bored. This is an excellent way to use leftovers.

Homemade Applesauce
Peel and core four large apples and cut them into wedges. Put the apples along with half a cup of water, a generous amount of cinnamon and ginger (at least a teaspoon each) and a bit of sugar in a pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it cook for at least twenty minutes. The apples should be getting pretty saucy (as in applesauce, not as in impudent) at this point, and after they cool a bit you should be able to mash them pretty well with a spoon. If not, try your whisk or sieve, or use a food processor or blender if you have a more high-tech kitchen than I do. I suppose you could eat the applesauce hot, but that would be gross. Chill it in the refrigerator first.

Lasagne Crêpes
Make crêpes without sugar, then fill them with tomato sauce, cooked ground beef, cheese, and oregano. Yum.

Homemade Noodles
Beat an egg, then mix in a cup of flour and a pinch of salt. Knead, adding flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and not too sticky to the touch. Roll out (I use my roll of cling wrap, and then just slice off the few inches that get dirty) onto a clean, flat surface (such as a placemat the grocery store gave you for free). Slice the noodles any way you like. They will double in size when they're cooked, so think small. It'll take only about three minutes in boiling water for the noodles to cook. (Note: because the noodles puff up so much, they're not too good for making either ravioli or lasagne.)
Here's the kicker: it takes about eight minutes to make the noodles, and three to cook them. You can boil your water while you're making the noodles. The brand of pasta I buy takes eleven minutes for al dente, plus boiling time. So this takes more effort, but is actually quicker than store-bought dry noodles.

Sauce to Go on the Noodles
Gather some vegetables, frozen, canned or fresh. I use a can of artichoke bottoms, sliced a bit, plus some frozen spinach and mushrooms. Heat them in half a jar of prepared pasta sauce. Toss in some extra herbs or spices if you want. Use a lot of sauce for the noodles, since it's the important part of the meal. A sprinkle of cheese on top is a nice touch. If it's not a Friday in Lent, you can put some of your leftover ground beef in the sauce.

No-bake Cookies
My family uses carob, but I couldn't find that so I bought cocoa. Too bad that I'm minorly allergic to it...
Melt a half cup of butter (or a bit less) into a non-stick pot. Whisk in half a cup of milk, a cup of sugar, and four tablespoons of ground unsweetened cocoa or carob. Bring this to a boil and let it boil for exactly 90 seconds. Use a timer. Then take it off the heat and use a sturdy spoon to incorporate three cups of rolled oats. Put spoonfuls of the mixture on wax paper or cling wrap, and put them in the freezer once they're a bit cooled. I like the cookies best frozen, but if the consistency works out you could eat them room temperature as well.

04 February 2008

Me, the Compulsive Liar (and more Metz photos)

Steadily Growing Nose...
When you're happily waiting at the bus stop, listening to an audiobook on your iPod and ignoring the rest of the world, the last thing you want to hear is the moderately creepy guy also waiting at the bus stop ask, "Wouldn't you rather chat than listen to music?" An honest answer would be very rude, so you pause the book and take out the earbuds. Polite lie.
Yes, I study at the Catho (that's true) and I'm studying languages (true). Oh, you study at that university? No, I don't know it. Have I been in Angers long? No, actually I'm an Erasmus student (this is more widely understood than explaining that I'm part of an exchange program that is exactly like Erasmus but isn't funded by the European Union and therefore isn't Erasmus). I've only been here a few months. OH, you're a foreigner? Your French is very good. Thanks, that's nice of you to say. Where are you from?
Let the compulsive lies begin. Somehow the honest answer didn't make it to my lips. "I'm from London." And it took off from there. I tried to keep conversation away from me, but the guy now thinks that I'm an English girl who's lived in London for the past ten years, before that lived in the north, and studies French at university. I couldn't lie about where I live, because that's where I had to get off the bus. He was meeting a friend, but got off at my stop (one past the one he needed) to walk with me a while. So naturally, I said I lived in a completely different direction. Sorry, I'd prefer not to give you my phone number. (Quick, come up with a polite reason!) I don't think my boyfriend would appreciate that.
So I walked in the direction I'd pointed, and checked again what time masses are at the Abbey. It hasn't changed, in case you were wondering. And there you have it, fifteen minutes of my compulsive lying.

Yellow Metz Photos
This is the natural yellow color of all the buildings in Metz. It's very sunny feeling, especially if you're looking at a sundial, like in this picture.

Here's a picture of the inside of the cathedral. It's very tall, and somewhat yellow, and bright because of all the stained glass.

This is the side of the cathedral (traditional cathedrals are shaped like crosses, so this is one of the arms, if you will). Hopefully this will help you to visualize how this relatively normal cathedral has the largest stained glass collection of the entire world. All the walls are like this.

This is one of the Chagall windows. It's nearly impossible to take good pictures of stained glass (they always come out blurry) but this one turned out beautifully.

There are two rivers that run through Metz. In the middle of the Moselle is this island, which has mostly theatres and other cultural buildings. This church is on a corner, and it overlooks part of the river which is home to very well-fed swans.

Finally, here's a picture of the back of the cathedral. Big and yellow and very gothic.